VALDOSTA — Nan Pope Allen recalls when what would become Valdosta State University had only three buildings, an all-female student population, and most of those students had to have a chaperone whether they “went to church or went to town.”
The 97-year-old VSU alum recently visited her alma mater, taking a tour of VSU’s 100-year-old history in the archives museum. Family friends Lee and Brenda Hatcher arranged the tour led by VSU Archivist Deborah Davis.
Having graduated in 1930 when VSU was the Georgia State Woman’s College at Valdosta, Nan Pope Allen is believed to be the oldest, living, local alum of the university. Davis says there is a 100-year-old alum known to live in North Georgia.
Commenting on the growth at VSU in the past 76 years, Allen says, “It has been amazing. I wouldn’t know where to start, so much of it has changed. There is no comparison.”
The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Pope, she has lived in Valdosta since the age of 4. Since she grew up in Valdosta and lived with her parents while attending college, the chaperone rule didn’t apply to her.
She was pleased to attend an all-girls school. “I was always timid and the boys had teased me badly in high school. So I didn’t want to put up with them,” Allen says.
While a student, she didn’t believe the college taught enough math courses. The young Nannie Pope let her opinions be known. In her senior year, a teacher wanted to teach calculus and approached Nannie. The student rose to the challenge. “She taught us calculus, but they still didn’t have enough math classes so I majored in history.”
A 1930 edition of the college’s Pine Cone yearbook features photographs of Nannie Pope posed in portrait and in graduation gown and mortarboard. It lists her degree in education. The yearbook also lists her achievements and activities: Valdosta Club, Phi Kappa Athletic Association, Sororian Literary Society 1928-’29, ’29-’30, International Relations Club which she served as president from 1929-’30, Presidents’ Club.
Of Nannie Pope, the yearbook notes, “While other girls are tooting their own horns and telling what they can do, Nan is getting things done. She overcomes all difficulties in a quiet manner — relieving many situations by her characteristic dry wit. With her major interest in history, she made for an excellent president for the International Relations Club.”
The notations about her overcoming all difficulties in a quiet manner would be a characteristic that has served her well in the story which Nan Pope Allen tells of her life.
Following college, she taught one year in Hahira. She spent several years teaching in Echols County, living in Fargo during the week and traveling home to Valdosta often on weekends.
It was a small school building with few facilities. “The girls hit the bushes on one side of the building and the boys hit the bushes on the other side of the building,” she says. Across the road was a pitcher pump providing water.
Teaching a small school at the height of the Great Depression was not easy, but she and the students persevered. For a while, she was the school’s only teacher. Her sister, Lucille Pope Sessions, joined her as the school’s second teacher.
In the early 1930s, Nannie Pope married Norman Allen. They had a son. In 1939,
Norman Allen died, leaving Nan Pope Allen alone to raise their 4-year-old son as the world teetered on the edge of another global war.
During a portion of World War II, Allen lived in Macon working in a naval-ordinance plant. South Georgia folks wanted her to return to the little school. They offered her the job of principal. Allen accepted but only after demanding and receiving $125 per month, a large sum of pay at the time.
In 1949, she returned to Valdosta where she served as principal of W.G. Nunn until her retirement in 1971. She has traveled extensively, visiting many sites and nations around the world.
Allen had a career at a time when few women worked outside of the home. With exception of the World War II years, teaching was one of the few job opportunities open to women in the mid 20th century. Rising to the level of being principal of a school was an uncommon achievement for the era.
Allen marvels at the strides women have made in the workplace during the past few decades and is humble about any part she may have played as a trailblazer. Allen does say that as a teacher and as an administrator, she always believed young women should make the most of their education to be prepared for the world.
As for Valdosta State, Allen marvels, too, at the tremendous strides it has made since her graduation 76 years ago. She was a firm supporter of changing its name to Valdosta State many years ago and was delighted to witness the move from college to university 13 years ago.
As for her alma mater’s eventual move to include male students several decades ago, Allen smiles and says, “I guess it was a good thing.”